PHILADELPHIA -- When we left off looking at the Eagles position by position Friday, we were talking about the in-transition nature of the outside linebackers.
The inside linebacker situation would seem more settled based on the 2013 season. DeMeco Ryans was exactly the leader a team needs in the middle of its defense, and Mychal Kendricks developed into arguably the most dynamic playmaker on that side of the ball.
With glaring needs in the secondary and at edge pass-rusher, that would make the inside linebacker spots appear less than pressing. So it was surprising that the Eagles' personnel people and coaches spent so much time talking to inside linebackers during Senior Bowl activities – as documented by Jimmy Kempski of Philly.com.
Kempski noted four inside linebackers among the 14 players the Eagles showed special interest in. That doesn’t mean they didn’t have interest in other players. With the scouting combine later this month, and with pro days and the chance to bring players to Philadelphia for visits, the Eagles will certainly talk to dozens of potential picks before the draft.
Still, the interest in inside linebackers is itself interesting. According to Kempski, the Eagles talked to LSU’s Lamin Barrow, Wisconsin’s Chris Borland, Illinois’ Jonathan Brown and Florida State’s Christian Jones.
Ryans is due to make $6.9 million this year. I’ve always believed it’s a bad idea for teams to ask important players to take pay cuts for a number of reasons. It’s bad for morale, it undermines a player’s ability to be a leader in a locker room where salary and stature are connected and it erodes every player’s confidence in the team’s commitment to the contracts it negotiates.
In this case, Ryans' contract was negotiated in Houston, before he was traded to Philadelphia. That eliminates one of those considerations. If general manager Howie Roseman can pitch a restructuring that helps the salary cap without hurting Ryans too much, then fine.
The larger question is whether, despite the Pro Bowl lobbying from defensive coordinator Bill Davis, the Eagles feel they need more impact from Ryans’ spot. At the very least, they may want to start grooming a young successor for Ryans, who turns 30 before the season.
There are other possibilities, though. After a season in his scheme, Davis may think Kendricks could be effective on the outside, for example. He’s a good pass-rusher and would be better at dropping into coverage than Trent Cole or Brandon Graham.
A relatively high draft pick at an inside spot could allow Kendricks to move outside while simultaneously developing into an eventual replacement for Ryans.
The counterargument there is that Kendricks spent his rookie season on the outside in the Eagles’ 4-3 scheme. Moving him inside for a year and then back outside would negate the considerable progress he made during the 2013 season.
Maybe it’s all just this simple: Roseman’s approach is to take the best player on the Eagles’ draft board regardless of position. If that player is an inside linebacker, then you take him and figure out exactly how to use him and the incumbent linebackers later.
Behind Ryans and Kendricks, the Eagles have a couple of special-teams guys in Casey Matthews and Jake Knott. Najee Goode showed promise playing in relief of Kendricks. Jason Phillips, signed for depth and special-teams prowess, tore his ACL in training camp and missed the entire season.
Bottom line: Assembling a deep group of versatile, athletic linebackers couldn’t hurt.